Weekend Box Office (January 2 - 4, 2004)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Movie fans across North America rang in the new year the same way they did the last two times - by flocking to theaters to see the latest saga in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Return of the King presided over a top ten that showed little change compared to last weekend with only one new face, the comedy Calendar Girls, entering the list. Declines were generally modest for films over the post-New Years frame with the overall marketplace showing improvement over last year giving 2004 a solid start.

For the third straight weekend, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ruled the box office collecting $28.2M, according to final studio figures, for a drop of 44%. That gives Peter Jackson's concluding chapter a 19-day tally of $290.4M which stands 11% better than the cume of last year's The Two Towers after the same amount of days. The third weekend decline of 44% represented a slightly better hold than the 49% fall that Towers suffered in its third frame. Although more people had Friday off this year, it still indicates more strength on the part of King which remains on course to blast past the $339.8M of Towers from its initial run. The Return of the King now hopes to reach the $300M mark by Tuesday which would allow it to tie Spider-Man as the fast film in history to hit the triple-century mark.

Holding steady in second place for the second weekend in a row was the Steve Martin-Bonnie Hunt family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen with $21.6M. Down just 22% from its opening, the Fox hit averaged $6,545 from 3,307 locations and has grossed a solid $85.6M in only 11 days. Cheaper now looks well on its way to surpassing Bringing Down the House to become Steve Martin's highest-grossing movie ever.

Another dynamic duo, Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, climbed up a notch to third place with Something's Gotta Give which took in $11.7M in its fourth frame. The Sony comedy slipped just 15% and lifted its 24-day total to $81.2M.

Miramax's acclaimed Civil War-era tale Cold Mountain checked into fourth place with $11.6M easing 21% in its second weekend. Holding eight Golden Globe nominations, the Nicole Kidman picture averaged a solid $5,226 from 2,216 locations and has collected $43.7M in its first 11 days.

Ben Affleck remained at number five with his actioner Paycheck which dropped 27% to $9.8M in its second weekend. Paramount, which has been touting the fifth-place film as "the number one thriller in america" in its ads, has grossed $38.6M to date. Universal's Peter Pan dropped 21% in its second weekend and collected $8.8M for a total to date of $34.2M.

Julia Roberts followed in seventh with Mona Lisa Smile which grossed $8.3M, off 27%, to raise its cume to $50M after its third weekend. Slipping just 11% was The Last Samurai with $7.4M for a sum of $90M thus far.

Buena Vista went nationwide with its British comedy Calendar Girls expanding from 42 to 745 theaters and grossed $4.4M landing it in ninth place. The PG-13 pic averaged a solid $5,956 per theater and has taken in $7M to date.

Rounding out the top ten was Billy Bob Thornton's foul-mouthed holiday comedy Bad Santa with $2.9M in its sixth frame,down 35%, for a cume of $56.9M.

Another Christmas tale, the blockbuster Elf starring Will Ferrell, slipped from the top ten after two months. The New Line smash dropped 41% to $2.3M boosting the total to a stunning $170.8M. Budgeted at $35M, look for Elf to finish with around $175M.

Moviegoers flocked to limited-release films over the first weekend of the new year. Tim Burton's magical tale Big Fish climbed 24% to $2.5M and a sparkling $20,356 average. Maintaining such a strong average over four weeks, the Sony release is well-positioned to expand nationwide on Friday when it widens to about 2,500 theaters.

DreamWorks witnessed a 4% uptick for House of Sand and Fog which took in $1.8M from 442 theaters for a good $4,046 average. The Focus drama 21 Grams was up 10% to $1.3M with a $4,640 average and $7.3M cume. The Irish immigrant tale In America rose 15% to $1.2M for a $3,760 average and $5.3M total.

The teen comedy Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! scored with young women during its Friday night sneak previews this weekend. From 822 theaters, the PG-13 comedy attracted an audience that was 80% female and 84% under 30. Exit polls showed that a perfect 100% of those polled described the film as "excellent" or "very good" even though total capacity for the sneaks reached only 58%. Directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde), Tad Hamilton stars Kate Bosworth and Josh Duhamel and opens nationally on January 23.

The top ten films grossed $114.8M which was up 12% from last year when The Two Towers remained at number one with $25M; and up 17% from 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring stayed on top with $23M.

Compared to projections, both The Return of the King and Cheaper by the Dozen were close to my respective forecasts of $28M and $19M. Something's Gotta Give came in stronger than my $10M prediction while Cold Mountain matched my $11M forecast.

Take this week's NEW Reader Survey on which film will be number one next weekend. In last week's survey, readers were asked which of three big summer sequels they wanted to see the most. Of 3,563 responses, 38% picked Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 34% selected Shrek 2, and 28% chose Spider-Man 2.

For reviews of The Return of the King and Cheaper by the Dozen, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Chasing Liberty and My Baby's Daddy both open.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and posters at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Jan. 2 - 4 Dec. 26 - 28 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 LOTR: The Return of the King $ 28,180,378 $ 50,598,104 -44.3 3,703 3 $ 7,610 $ 290,410,961 New Line
2 Cheaper by the Dozen 21,644,537 27,557,647 -21.5 3,307 2 6,545 85,620,095 Fox
3 Something's Gotta Give 11,705,123 13,816,638 -15.3 2,808 4 4,168 81,211,676 Sony
4 Cold Mountain 11,579,747 14,574,213 -20.5 2,216 2 5,226 43,737,222 Miramax
5 Paycheck 9,837,313 13,462,374 -26.9 2,762 2 3,562 38,644,452 Paramount
6 Peter Pan 8,818,755 11,139,495 -20.8 2,813 2 3,135 34,179,235 Universal
7 Mona Lisa Smile 8,300,794 11,351,439 -26.9 2,714 3 3,059 50,006,766 Sony
8 The Last Samurai 7,373,719 8,326,947 -11.4 2,401 5 3,071 90,017,337 Warner Bros.
9 Calendar Girls 4,437,082 396,522 745 3 5,956 6,953,194 Buena Vista
10 Bad Santa 2,937,737 4,526,000 -35.1 1,710 6 1,718 56,909,596 Miramax
11 Stuck on You 2,802,420 3,626,868 -22.7 2,064 3 1,358 30,721,406 Fox
12 Big Fish 2,544,450 2,053,733 23.9 125 3 20,356 8,454,208 Sony
13 The Haunted Mansion 2,506,251 2,860,015 -12.4 1,501 5 1,670 70,422,751 Buena Vista
14 Elf 2,303,567 3,906,028 -41.0 1,768 8 1,303 170,837,644 New Line
15 Love Don't Cost A Thing 1,921,466 2,953,073 -34.9 1,015 3 1,893 20,178,317 Warner Bros.
16 House of Sand and Fog 1,788,293 1,720,438 3.9 442 2 4,046 5,383,663 DreamWorks
17 21 Grams 1,340,872 1,223,891 9.6 289 6 4,640 7,272,165 Focus
18 In America 1,229,445 1,070,721 14.8 327 5 3,760 5,305,891 Fox Searchlight
19 Master and Commander 1,117,880 1,160,829 -3.7 701 7 1,595 83,006,144 Fox
20 Honey 1,071,845 1,417,310 -24.4 672 4 1,595 28,816,190 Universal
Top 5 $ 82,947,098 $ 120,008,976 -30.9
Top 10 114,815,185 159,258,885 -27.9
Top 20 133,441,674 178,605,843 -25.3
Top 20 vs. 2003 133,441,674 120,745,624 10.5

Last Updated : January 5, 2004 at 5:30PM EST

Gitesh Pandya can be seen each Friday on "The Biz" airing at 12:30pm and 9:30pm ET on CNNfn.